I feel amazingly fortunate to work in cycling and to be able to communicate and share my personal enthusiasm through CTC. I don't feel that I am a natural cyclist, but I suppose that comes from the idea that there is a such a thing as a stereotypical one.
Maybe cyclists just grow organically, once someone has planted the tiny seed and nurtured it until it is strong enough to survive on its own. In fact, the seed that was planted during my student lifetime and languished for a while as I developed my career and family, has finally, with a bit of nurturing, turned into an oak.
Behind the exterior of a largish, middle class, middle-aged, slightly wrinkly and uptight mother of three, there lurks a cycling chameleon. Give me a situation that involves anything vaguely cycling-related and I think I can hold my own, albeit with a rather individual style. As my youngest will testify 'Mum, you are always talking about or doing cycling'.
Monday to Friday will see me on my Brompton, unfolded out of my car boot as I cycle from the Park and Ride to my office. Tuesday is MTB day, after work with my friends. Friday is 'spin' night and Sunday is the weekly road ride. Holidays often feature cycling, whether it's along canals, up mountains or exploring towns or countryside. At work I can be leading rides, organising stunt ride displays, coordinating cycle training, jumping on an accessible bike, running events or presenting to others about the merits of the activity. It's not hard to be enthusiastic and maybe, at times, a little 'much'.
Every year I meet more and more people who are prepared to give cycling a go and, because of my work, I am often able to offer them help and support to do so. It doesn't matter what kind of cycling first attracts them or, in my view, where they first try riding a bike. Eventually, if that seed is planted securely and there are other cyclists to inspire and protect them while they grow, they will join the cycling community.
So this year in Hampshire we have had a wealth of opportunities to identify and encourage new cyclists, luckily with some funding and positive partners to support. We have had events such as Winchester Bike Fest, Andover Carnival, the Farnborough Workplace Challenge and Basingstoke Big Wheel. We have offered sessions on Adult Cycle Skills, Bike Maintenance and Dr Bike sessions.
Several thousand people have tried a bike at one of our sessions and hundreds more have been inspired by stunt shows. Friends and organisations have offered to take people out for rides with cake, and families have asked for maps and routes so that they can go out together at weekends. We have put in cycle stands and new routes for cyclists, celebrating when they start to be used. Businesses are setting up Bicycle User Groups and local authorities are producing or updating cycle-friendly maps of their towns. Schools are developing plans to encourage active travel and pupils are engaging with activities and individuals working with them. Even the weather seems to have been on our side!!
So, I am sitting here, thinking how the story will continue next year. With some optimism, still enthusiastic and still in the same unlikely body that I started with, I will weather the winter season and emerge in the new year, pumped up and ready to hit the road. I vow to my daughter that I will continue to embarrass her with my cycling antics: I will continue to talk about bikes; have friends who talk bikes and eat cake; and I will continue to be evangelical, whether she likes it or not!
2014 will be another year and another opportunity to get more people involved. If you, or anyone else you know would like to volunteer to support the work or try cycling for themselves, suggest they visit CTC's website or, for more local information about our work in Hampshire, www.myjourneyhampshire.com